When you picture a cowboy, a specific image probably comes to mind: young men wearing wide-brimmed hats, leather chaps, and spurred boots, riding through a dusty frontier town. You probably don’t picture thousands of mostly black men and women riding through rural East Texas, blasting country and rap music. Yet that is what descended on Columbus, in early August.
The gatherings, known as Creole trail rides, happen almost every weekend in Louisiana and East Texas. They are a decadeslong tradition rooted in the forgotten history of black cowboys in the American West, and they have been growing increasingly popular in the Deep South and across the United States. Part horseback riding, part rodeo, and part dancing to the Creole rhythms of zydeco music, the annual Liz Cook Trail Ride celebrated its 25th ride in Columbus.
That ride in particular is also about building up the black community. “This, I believe, will keep younger kids out of trouble,” says Kevin Tircuit, a truck driver from Houston who brought his horse Misty. “This is hard work,” he adds, “and it teaches them responsibility.”
“You have to have respect for these horses, for the land, for the people who throw the rides,” says Scotty Ferguson, a warehouse worker who drove two hours from San Antonio for the ride. “I’ve had trouble with my attitude, anger problems,” he adds, “and this has been a major calm-down for me.”